On the Horizon: A COVID-19 Vaccine
By Alisha Ahmed and Eva Mandelbaum
In the beginning, quarantine was fun for many of us: not having to wake up early for school, staying in pajamas all day, binge-watching Netflix 24/7. After a while though, there were no more shows to watch, it was boring having nothing to do, and going to school did not seem so bad. Soon, we began longing for a vaccine. The wait for a vaccine is stressful and strenuous. How long is it going to take to make a vaccine? Will it be safe? These are just a couple of questions preoccupying many of us.
Many scientists and doctors have been hard at work for months, scrambling to work toward a Coronavirus vaccine, as the entire world watches, and as the pandemic is still ubiquitous. After a long and restless wait, there is finally some news of a possibility that a vaccine might come out soon.
Many companies are testing thousands of people every day hoping to finally get a solution that works. Making a vaccine does not happen in one day; the process is arduous and difficult. While we do not know when the vaccine is going to come out, there is information about testing, how the vaccine is going to be distributed, and information about the vaccine itself.
According to The New York Times, the Trump administration made a two-billion dollar contract with Pfizer and the German biotechnology company. The reason the Trump administration paid the companies so much money is called the Warp Speed project. The Warp Speed project is an attempt to make the vaccine come out faster. If the vaccine works then the company would manufacture the first 100 million doses by the end of the year. The arrangement that has been made would mean that the federal government would get the first batch for 1.95 billion dollars and the right to receive 500 million dollars more. The goal is that all Americans would receive the vaccine for free.
On July 27, Pfizer and AstraZeneca said that they are making a vaccine that would have minor side effects. Pfizer and BioNTech are also trying to make a vaccine candidate that uses genetic material for the virus to help the immune system fight off the virus without making the person sick, but not one vaccine has been made that has been approved. Immune systems have different responses to every vaccine which is why scientists do not know which one will fight off COVID the best. Since it is not clear which vaccine will work the best and which vaccine will not work, the wait for a vaccine continues.
While we are waiting for a vaccine, on June 15th, the American Red Cross began testing all blood, platelet, and plasma donations for COVID. According to The Red Cross testing for COVID-19, antibodies will tell the patient whether they had the Coronavirus or not. Antibodies means that you had the virus, but your body was able to fight it off. If you get tested for antibodies, and you test positive, you will be able to donate blood to people who have the coronavirus to help them try and fight off the virus. Hopefully, giving blood donations will help the people who are trying to fight off the virus. There are other ways to help right now, too. The main way would be to wear a mask and to keep social distancing.
Oxford University is currently leading the race to a vaccine. As the vaccines are being developed, for the potential vaccine to eventually be distributed and given to people, a trial must take place to make sure it is safe to be given to the public. A clinical trial network for vaccines has been launched by The National Institutes of Health. Along with many other potential Covid-19 fighting tools, vaccines are being tested in this major trial. In the trial, brave volunteers will have to be swabbed, screened, poked, and prodded as a part of being a tester. This trial is our gateway to the promising hope of a safe vaccine. Encouragingly enough, according to USA Today, as of July 20, over 138,600 people now consider themselves testers for the trial, Richard Fisher being among them. Richard Fisher is a Covid-19 vaccine tester for Oxford who shared his firsthand experiences in an article he wrote for BBC Future.
From Fisher we learn that the trial begins with being randomly grouped. Your group determines if you will receive the trial vaccine for Covid-19, or another licensed vaccine called MenACWY (which is used to protect against the causes of meningitis or sepsis), so that the two groups effects and side-effects can be compared. You do not find out which group you are in or which vaccine you have received until the end of the trial. Fisher shared that after being grouped and learning about the trial, he was quizzed on his medical history and was tested for Coronavirus through giving blood samples. Some in the trial would be asked to give fecal samples, but this did not include Fisher. After being informed about the trial and giving samples and medical history to doctors, the next stage is to be vaccinated. On vaccination day, more blood is taken, and more questions are asked. When vaccinated, for the sake of the study, both the doctor and the participant do not know which vaccine they are going to be given (the experimental one for Coronavirus or the already licensed one for meningitis/sepsis.) About a week after the vaccination, Fisher completed a COVID-19 test, which he will now have to repeat doing for at least four months. He will also continue returning to the hospital regularly for blood tests over the next year. Phase three of the clinical trial has recently begun, so testers and health-care workers and officials are still hard at work. Being a tester for the Coronavirus vaccine is a significant sacrifice, but without brave people like Richard Fisher stepping forward, we would not be anywhere near where we are now, as we inch closer each day to the promising vaccine.
Is everyone going to be required to be vaccinated? Most people would have no problem with the vaccine, but this excludes one group of people called “anti-vaxxers.” Anti-vaxxers are people impeding against vaccines usually because they feel as though they should not be trusted, and that the government is controlling them, according to nphic.org, which explains the thoughts behind anti-vaxxers. Coronavirus anti-vaxxers have already managed to act in exacerbating the pandemic and process of a vaccine coming out as they are bullying the scientists and health officials working toward a vaccine. They are criticizing the COVID-19 vaccine, even though it has not even been finished or released yet. In some cases, anti-vaxxers are the same people who have not been following stay at home orders, wearing masks, or respecting what important health officials such as Dr. Fauci have to say. Some intense anti-vaxxers have gone to the extent of attacks on public health officers, and they have been bullying those who are just trying to do their job to keep us safe. In an article on statnews.com, it is shown that anti-vaxxers have already started protesting the vaccines, while also protesting other health-necessities such as masks. There are many hardships that must be faced in the complicated process of producing a vaccine, opposers being one of them. Overall, despite hurdles such as anti-vaxxers, health officials have been continuing to work hard toward the vaccine.
Ideally, we will get the vaccine we have been hoping for within a year, but everything takes time, especially a brand-new vaccine. According to historyofvaccines.org, vaccine development usually is a tedious process taking about 10-15 years. The thought of this pandemic lasting that long is terrifying to most people, but scientists and doctors have been using newer technology to their advantage and have been trying their best to get it finished as soon as possible.
There are still many things up in the air such as exactly how long it will take, if the vaccine will be required, and who will get the vaccine first. In the meantime, we need to make sure we are wearing our masks, following social-distancing guidelines, and are listening to officials, doctors, and scientists. We just need data, patience, and time to confidently come out with a vaccine which will potentially save lives.